ST. LOUIS — St. Louis city and county leaders are watching local COVID-19 cases increase and mask mandates being issued in other parts of the country.
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page started his briefing on the topic Wednesday with a sigh.
“I hate that we are where we are,” he began. “At a spot where we have a way out of this pandemic but not enough people are getting vaccinated to stop this latest wave.”
The county executive explained why local health leaders are considering enacting health orders again, like a mask mandate. Page detailed recent recommendations from the U.S. surgeon general, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force and the joint statement issued by the city and county – all groups in various ways encouraging people to wear a mask regardless of vaccination status.
Page stopped short of issuing a mask mandate, saying there was no announcement to make Wednesday. But he did say that it’s “a topic of conversation, and it’s ongoing.”
“For the moment, we encourage everyone to wear a mask, even if you’re vaccinated,” Page said.
St. Louis County Department of Public Health data shows an average of 191 people a day are contracting the virus in the county. The CDC’s data also shows the county’s positivity rate is at 9.29% and the rate of infection per 100,000 people is 136.
“These numbers mean that we are in the CDC’s red zone for widespread community transmission, and cases will continue to rise rapidly in the coming weeks,” Page explained.
"You can kind of see the tsunami going, what can we do to prepare for it?" asked Dr. Fred Buckhold of SLUCare.
Leaders are especially concerned about the delta variant spreading from Midwest hotspots at a rapid rate, which has led them to consider health guidelines.
"The art of this is doing it before the numbers get big,” Buckhold said. “The idea is you try to prevent people from getting it."
Buckhold said the best form of prevention is getting the vaccine.
"If I'm in a meeting with 10 other doctors we don't wear masks, there's no point,” Buckhold. “But when there's uncertainty."
The SLU doctor said between the virus spread and vaccination efforts, it's a race to protect those who are most vulnerable.
"What COVID-19 has taught me is by the time you recognize it's already too late,” the doctor said. “Many would make the argument it's probably here and we just don't know it yet.”
In a joint statement Tuesday, city and county leaders said they are "actively studying further steps." The full statement is as follows:
“St. Louis County continues to experience sharp increases in the average number of new cases per day, currently at 170. That is 34 percent higher than just one week ago. St. Louis City has seen an increase in new cases across all ZIP codes, 38 percent higher than a week ago, with African-Americans making up 80% of new reported cases since May. Additionally, we have seen our regional positivity rate grow to around 10 percent, and we are aware that the “hot spot” in southwest Missouri is moving northeast toward our region. We are very concerned with these numbers and are actively studying further steps.
"On July 1, the City and County issued a public health advisory on mask wearing; a second advisory was issued July 12. Our departments encourage everyone to follow the advice from our public health experts. The advisories and other information can be found at stlcorona.com and stlouis-mo.gov. Regional health departments are absolutely in support of universal mask wearing by vaccinated and unvaccinated residents, particularly indoors. We believe it is critical for everyone’s safety.
"Our region is watching national news and trends very carefully and have paid attention to the mask mandates that have been initiated by other local jurisdictions. While we do not have an announcement to make today, this is a topic of conversation. For the moment, we will continue to urge everyone to wear masks, even if you are vaccinated.
"Vaccination remains the best protection against COVID-19, and the City and County urge you to get vaccinated immediately if you have not done so, and have your family members 12 and older do the same. Finally, anyone with any symptoms of COVID-19 – including headache, sore throat, fever, coughing and other flu-like symptoms – should seek immediate testing. Anyone who tests positive must isolate, and those who have had recent contact with that individual must quarantine.”